High Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing

About the Book

In the gripping first-person accounts of High Rise Stories, former residents of Chicago’s iconic public housing projects describe life in the now-demolished high rises. These stories of community, displacement, and survival amplify the experiences of many who have long been ignored, but whose hopes and struggles exist firmly at the heart of our national identity.

Narrators Include:

DONNELL, who was initiated into gang life at the age of twelve. A former resident of Rockwell Gardens, Donnell recounts growing up in an environment where daily life involved selling drugs, fighting rival gangs, and navigating encounters with a corrupt and often violent police force, as well as his efforts to turn his life around after incarceration.

DOLORES, who, at the age of 82, was hastily displaced from her home in Cabrini-Green after 53 years and forced to leave many of her belongings behind. Dolores depicts her community’s evolution over five decades, including her leadership in resident government, and her husband’s mentoring of youth through a Drum and Bugle Corps.

SABRINA, whose sister was shot in the head in their Cabrini-Green apartment when she was caught in the middle of a turf-related shooting. Because ambulances refused to come to Cabrini-Green, and the elevators were out of order, Sabrina’s father and her then-pregnant mother had to carry her sister down thirteen flights of stairs to rush her to the hospital.

CHANDRA, whose son’s felony conviction bars him from entering the grounds of Chandra’s home in Orchard Park. Chicago Housing Authority rules demand that Chandra report him to the police if she sees him on the property, or face eviction herself.

About the Editor & Foreword Author:

Audrey Petty is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A Ford Foundation grantee, her work has been featured in ColorlinesStoryQuarterly, and Saveur, among many others.

Alex Kotlowitz is the author of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, which the New York Public Library selected as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. His nonfiction stories have appeared in print, radio and film. From his documentary, The Interrupters, to his stories in The New York Times Magazine and on public radio’s This American Life, he’s been honored in all three mediums.

Praise for High Rise Stories:

The high-rise public housing projects of Chicago have long carried their own myths…But families, actual people lived in those buildings. In this volume, we get to hear their stories. As a whole, the collection is gripping, and nuanced and unexpectedly moving.


A powerful and authentic work. High Rise Stories captures the vibrant sense of community and home, as well as the challenges, that existed for those who lived in Chicago’s public housing developments, through a series of searing first person narratives. An important book and a very moving read.

Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps

High Rise Stories is essential reading for anyone interested in fair housing.

Van Jones, Author, Reporter, Former Special Advisor to the Obama White House

This invaluable book will help its readers get beyond stereotypes and pat answers to grapple with the paradoxes these places represented and the complex humanity of the people who lived there.

Bill Savage for the Chicago Tribune

This project was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Related Resources

View the Lesson Plans
The lessons use oral history to promote a nuanced understanding of those that lived in the now-demolished Chicago public housing developments.
Book Club Discussion Questions
Use these questions to encourage meaningful discussions about the book.
Narrative Excerpt
In McSweeney’s, read an excerpt of an oral history from the book.
Lecture & Infographic
Watch editor Audrey Petty’s lecture on the book and view the corresponding infographic.

Media Coverage